It was 1999. As a young kid, I’d been trying to make it in the music business for a couple of years. When I began my journey, it was shortly before a huge innovation curve. Back in those days, it could take me five to ten days to finish a song. It had nothing to do with my skill level or a creativity bottleneck; it was purely based on the technology that was available.
I remember working at the Musikmesse trade show in Germany, and one of my friends from a company called Waldorf told me I didn’t look happy doing what I was doing anymore. I’d been doing demos for a music software company for the past two years. I told him I didn’t look happy because I wasn’t happy. He asked me what it would take to put a smile back on my face again. I told him that the one thing I thought that would change my life would be to have Pro Tools.
Back in those days, Pro Tools was a program only used by very few real professionals. A lot of the old school guys still thought analog tape was the best way to record, sonically and creatively. For me, analog tape just slowed me down. It sounded great, but the time that it took for a 24-track tape to rewind from three minutes in to the beginning of a track was enough time to steal critical creativity for me. And besides, Pro Tools had 48 tracks.
My friend at Waldorf told me that what I should do is just ask the company that I was working for to give me Pro Tools, Pro tools Interfaces, the fastest computer available and whatever else I needed in lieu of payment. I was paid well enough that it would probably be a discount to the company. I decided to go with his suggestion. One month later, I had a full Pro Tools system, with the fastest computer available.
The first day with Pro Tools was like heaven. I remember I started writing a song at 1 p.m. and was finished with a full demo by 3 p.m. A full record written and recorded in two hours. It really was like heaven.
Fast-forward two months and I received a tech call from one of my good friends, Jean-Marie Horvat. Jean-Marie was working on the Michael Jackson record. He’d had a request from Harvey Mason Jr., a writer on the project. Harvey wanted someone to help set it up so that they could sync Pro Tools with Cubase on the same computer, but no one knew how to do it. As it turned out, I was the only one in L.A. who knew how to do it. I went over to the studio and set it up. It took me all of five minutes.
As I was leaving, Jean-Marie was nice enough to speak up for me. He told Harvey Mason Jr. that I was a great writer and that he should ask the boss, Rodney Jerkins, if he could give me a couple tracks to write to. Lucky for me, Rodney said yes. Harvey gave me a CD of three tracks. I wrote and sang the first one as soon as I got home. It took me an hour at most. The next one I wrote that night. And the third I wrote the next day. I don’t think any of those songs took more than two hours to write and record.
I sent the songs to Harvey for his opinion. It took almost two months before I heard anything back, but this time, it was Rodney Jerkins who called me. They loved the songs, but now he wanted to see what I could really do. I must have passed the test because within a year, I had songs on albums by Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, The Spice Girls and many more. It was the start of what has turned out to be a long and sustaining career.
When I look back at it now, the technology went hand-in-hand with my creativity. Both fed off of each other. I can write a song on paper, but it’s a lot more fun when I can hear the finished song in an hour.
The Storyteller’s Dilemma
In The Storyteller’s Dilemma Louis Hernandez, Jr. shares his perspectives on how technology is changing the way we share experiences in the connected digital age, and the economic realities of an evolving media landscape.